Israel NGO Drama: Are We Much Better Than Them?

Though happening a little ways away, I found this story pretty interesting nonetheless.

The New York Times and Foundation Center are reporting that an Israeli cabinet recently voted to severely limit contributions made to Israeli non-profits by certain foreign groups. Not only are tremendously high taxes being waged but contributions are also being capped at 5,000.

As the article explains, the genesis of the bill is stated to be an attempt by some in the Israeli government to penalize left-wing non-profit organizations, “particularly those focused on Palestinian rights and civil liberties.” The problem is, however, that if the language isn’t worded just right, the bill could be enough to inhibit relief efforts in Israel across the board.

The state non-profits have found themselves in recently (all around the world) is definitely interesting.  In Europe organizations are fighting to keep their status and various “perks”. Similarly, we have our own battles with non-profits happening right here in the U.S. right? Political groups are fighting to obtain exempt status, organizations ranging from hospitals to the NFL are fighting to justify their non-profit status and states are increasingly coming up with new ways to circumvent  tax-exemption by finding creative ways to levy what they feel is much needed revenue.

But to circle back, all the recent events got me thinking (dangerous, I know). Should the government (on behalf of the public) be able to cherry pick what organizations do and do not get to keep their tax-exempt status?  So for example, should the general public become disenchanted with a non-profit organization (say one that has tax-exempt status but makes a gajillion dollars a year) should the government be able to step in and revoke that organization’s status? What if a committee/the government felt they no longer deserved it, despite their compliance with the tax code? If an organization is believed to no longer be relevant, or no longer contributing, should it be as easy to shut them down as it was to set them up? And if so, would that be much different than what is going on in Israel?

Don’t get me wrong, what is happening in Israel is certainly “severe” by all accounts. Not only has the government decided to impede certain organizations simply because of the cause, but they have gone one step further by inhibiting the ability of these organizations to sustain themselves. But I can’t help but wonder if we have our own watered down form of that happening here. When  you have a population that asks “how in the *ahem* did they become a non-profit?” isn’t the implication that some organizations obviously deserve to be tax-exempt while others don’t; regardless of what the statute says?

And if that’s the case, how do the organizations themselves feel about that? Do you think it would help weed out duplication and strain? Enable smaller organizations to better sustain themselves? Or would the government having that much control be cause for concern?

Resources


  • Israeli Legislation Limiting Foreign Government Funding of NGOs Causes Stir  http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=361400022
  • Israeli Government Backs Limits on Financing for Nonprofit Groups http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/14/world/middleeast/israeli-government-backs-financing-limits-for-nonprofit-groups.html?_r=1&scp=7&sq=israel&st=cse